For an introduction to this series, click here.
Jan. 29, 2007
Jesus and the disciples stayed at Bethany, likely at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. In the morning, as they returned to Jerusalem, Jesus went to a fig tree to find something to eat, but found "nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs." (11:13) Jesus cursed the fig tree, and the next day, the disciples saw that it was withered away. Contrary to what most sermons I have heard on this, Jesus was not under the delusion that He would find figs on the tree. Mark clearly tells us that it was not the time for figs. It is not an incorrect application to say that we are supposed to bear spiritual fruit as Christians from this text, but it is not the primary interpretation or the reason Jesus cursed the tree. Jesus explains exactly what He was doing: "Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him." (11:22-23)
Jesus was giving the disciples a lesson in faith and how God miraculously responds. I have to be honest with you: I am troubled when I read verses like this. I wonder what kind of faith I really have. Jesus plainly said that whatever we ask we will receive if we ask in faith, but that's not how it seems to work for me. I don't know. What I do know and am confident in is that God is doing His work in my life as He sees fit.
In between the two episodes at the fig tree, we have the cleansing of the Temple, one of my all-time favorite Bible scenes. I remember looking at my Grandpa's Bible when I was a little kid and sat with my grandparents in church. It was one of those that had about a dozen or so pictures placed sporadically in the text. One of the pictures was a wild-eyed Jesus with a whip upsetting all the cages and tables in the Temple. I always think of that picture when I read this story. That had to have been a hilarious sight to see.
The last section of the chapter begins a series of questions the religious leaders asked Jesus. The first question, from the chief priests, scribes and elders was: "'By what authority are you doing these things, (primarily referring to the cleansing of the Temple) or who gave you this authority to do them?' Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question...Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?" (11:28-30) Jesus cut through the hypocrisy. He knew that if He said He was acting on God's authority it would not convince them, so instead He asked them a similar question about authority. If they could not concede that John's ministry was from God, they had no business asking Him or anybody else about the legitimacy of their ministry. They weighed their options and finally said: "We do not know." (11:33, ESV) Hypocrites.